Just give any of us long-timers in the communications measurement industry a glass of wine and we’ll start telling stories about the weirdest, wildest projects we’ve ever worked on. Give us a second glass of wine, and the horror stories come out. Here are my top 10 weird and strange tales of measurement adventures:
1. Several years ago I was on my way to New York City for a noon meeting on a very small plane out of Portsmouth, NH. I fell asleep, then woke up—when we landed in Albany! While I was snoozing, a snow storm had prevented us from landing in NYC. I talked my way onto a flight to Islip, Long Island, rented a car, drove through the blizzard, and made it just in time for my introduction.
2. A client once excused herself half-way through my presentation. She took a magazine from her briefcase and explained that she needed to use the ladies room and would be back in “awhile.” We were kept waiting for 30 minutes until she returned.
3. My sales manager and I once gave a very high level presentation to a very serious group of clients from all over the world. Only too late did we realize that my manager’s screensaver was a picture of a nearly naked (although very attractive) man. The clients were not amused.
4. Once upon a time, one of the most brilliant Measurement Mavens ever had to wear a Keebler Elf costume as part of a client assignment.
5. We once had a client who used to proofread our 30-page databases just to find typos so he could demand a discount on our invoice.
6. Once upon a time I had a very important client presentation in San Francisco. I dressed carefully to ensure maximum authority in a new red suit and matching heels. About 20 feet from corporate headquarters I tripped and went sprawling. I got up, dusted off my bruised knees, realized my stockings were toast, and then felt a gust of wind in my unmentionables. The rear seam of my skirt had split right up to my waist! I ducked into the nearest drug store and bought a new pair of stockings and every safety pin in the place. I then headed for the nearest ladies room. 40 safety pins later I went in front of the C-suite for the presentation. For two hours I didn’t sit down and never turned my back.
7. Years ago I presented results to a company called Business Objects, with their entire team, and agency gathered to watch. It was the early days of text analysis, and I was so excited because for the first time we’d searched a massive online database for mentions of the client’s name. They were pleasantly surprised by the volume of their coverage—until they asked to see a sample story. Uh oh. It turned out that a great many journalists had written “small business objects to this proposed legislation” or “big business objects to this ruling,” and they were all included in the coverage.
8. Once I arrived at the Cincinnati airport for a major presentation to Procter & Gamble and realized I’d left my driver’s license in the jeans I’d worn the night before. Not being able to rent a car, I had to figure out some way to get a sufficient amount of cash to pay a taxi. The one ATM card I had with me didn’t have enough cash left in it to cover it, so I pleaded with the airline to cash my check. They did, then I hopped in the cab and made the presentation. That was the inauspicious beginning of a long relationship with P&G that culminated with our creating their PREvaluate score.
9. Then there was the time I was recovering from surgery, with orders not to get out of bed. The phone rang and it was a potential client asking if I was available for a conference call. I sat up, put on my very best professional voice, and said “Of course!” The prospect described her problems, and I threw out a few potential ways I might help. After about an hour, she said, “We’d like to hire you. I will fax you a professional services agreement, can you send it back right away? And I need you to start tomorrow.” So I staggered downstairs, printed out and signed the contract, and faxed it back to my new client.
For the next 6 months I designed and helped implement an entire worldwide PR measurement program for this client, all while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. For one presentation, knowing I had a three-day window between chemo and complete exhaustion, I did the chemo, flew to California the next morning, and flew back on the red eye that night. Then I slept for 3 days. At the end of 6 months, I was scheduled to go back to California to train the staff, but was still in the middle of daily radiation treatments. I finally confessed to the client what was going on, and her only response was, “Did you lose your hair too?” Turns out she was a fellow cancer survivor. We spent most of our next meeting swapping stories.
10. The ultimate in strange presentations happened in the early days of my long-term history of measuring PR for Hewlett-Packard. We were measuring their media relations program and my task was to explain the results to my client, as well as to her boss and her boss’s boss. I’d prepared 25 slides and rehearsed thoroughly the evening before. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on coming down with a migraine headache just before the presentation. To say I was mildly distracted was an understatement, but that was just the beginning. To my surprise, my ex-husband, who ran a division of HP at the time, decided to sit in. And then, the woman who had caused our divorce walked in! Turned out she was my client’s new boss. ∞
I guess if you do this long enough, you’ve experienced everything. my strangest experience was when I was invited by a large international agency to deliver a measurement speech to a team of senior executives. ten minutes into it, a uniformed policeman entered the lecture to arrest a member of the audience. stunned at the podium, I heard a boom-box begin to blare as the officer began to grind the suspect, I realized then that research was the last thing on the agenda…I was the set-up for a bachelorette party. I’ve never lost an audience’s attention so completely and so quickly (but I understand why).